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GE to expand program to pay smokers to quit

Dangling enough dollars in front of smokers who want to quit helps many more succeed, an experiment with hundreds of General Electric Co. workers indicates.

Among those paid up to $750 to quit and stay off cigarettes, 15 percent were still tobacco-free about a year later. That may not sound like much, but it's three times the success rate of a comparison group that got no such bonuses.

GE was so impressed, it plans to offer an incentive program nationwide next year, aiming to save some of the company's estimated $50 million annually in extra health and other costs for smoking employees.

"This kind of reward system provides them with direct, positive feedback in the present," not just delayed, intangible health benefits, said Dr. Kevin Volpp, the lead researcher of the study.

Volpp, who oversees the health incentives center at the University of Pennsylvania, called the study the largest ever of employer incentives to stop smoking. Several past studies failed to find higher quit rates linked to financial bonuses, but he said those included too few people or the financial incentives were too tiny, some as low as $10.

The $750 was "a good incentive," said Dan Anzalone, a study participant who quit smoking cold turkey three years ago next month – after a 35-year habit.

"I was getting rewarded for something that I should be doing anyway," said Anzalone, 54. "You'd be surprised at what that little incentive does."